US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have announced an enhancement to the I-94 website that allows travelers to apply and pay for their I-94 online prior to arriving at a US land port of entry. Travelers can now speed up their entry into the US by providing their biographic and travel information and paying the $6 fee for their I-94 application online up to seven days prior to their US entry. Note at this time this online I-94 application only applies to entries via land, not air and sea.
First implemented over fifty years ago, the I-94 is a document given to foreign nationals that (1) tracks arrivals and (indirectly) departures to and from the United States, and (2) is evidence of legal status in the US for foreign nationals in their category of admission (for example, H-1, O-1, L-1, F-1, and so on). The I-94 document is distinct from both a foreign national’s visa stamp (the stamp processed into a passport by a US Embassy/Consulate abroad) and the admission stamp (which is the ink stamped into a foreign national’s passport noting the date and place of entry and expiration of stay along with the handwritten category of admission).
Back in 2013, CBP made a major change with the I-94 procedure by eliminating the issuance of paper I-94 cards when foreign nationals arrived in the US. Upon entry to the US, instead of receiving a paper I-94 card, most foreign nationals receive only an admission stamp in their passport. This admission stamp notes the date and place of entry, category of admission, and expiration of stay. CBP uploads the foreign nationals’ information into its electronic I-94 system, and foreign nationals can, at a later time, print their I-94 document. Now, with the most recent advancement of the I-94 application, after submitting their information and payment on line, travelers will receive a “provisional I-94.” The I-94 online application will collect information that is otherwise collected in-person at the land port of entry, and includes biographic information (name, date of birth, country of citizenship), passport details, visa details (if applicable), and petition/Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS) number (if applicable).
CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske explains the reasons for this change in a statement:
We continue our commitment to transforming the international arrivals experience with this new I-94 offering that expedites entry into the US at land ports of entry, while maintaining the highest standard of security. This automated functionality increases the efficiency of the entry process and reduces administrative duties for CBP officers—ultimately resulting in shorter waits for travelers requiring an I-94.
After online submission of all pertinent details, to finalize the I-94 issuance process, a traveler must present themselves at a land port of entry within seven days of their application and submit biometrics, if applicable, and be interviewed by a CBP officer. Travelers should be prepared to show evidence of their residence, employment, and/or travel plans, if requested by the CBP officer. If the traveler does not complete their I-94 issuance process within seven days of their application, their provisional I-94 will expire and they will have to reapply and pay the fee again. There are no refunds if the I-94 is not issued within the seven-day period or if the traveler is denied entrance to the US.
The secure I-94 website is designed to be user friendly and payment can be made with a credit card, debit card, direct debit, or through PayPal. Benefits of this process include “increased efficiencies during processing, decreased paper usage, a streamlined CBP inspection process for the traveling public and reduced operating costs.” Again, the online I-94 application only applies to US land port of entries at this time. There is no indication if and when it will extend to air and sea entries.
CBP claims the previous paperless online automation of the I-94 Arrival/Departure Record has greatly improved the traveler experience while saving the US government an estimated $34.5 million in its first two years, and this additional change should expedite the I-94 process even more, while this remains to be seen. For more information regarding the I-94 land automation or to access an electronic Form I-94, visit www.cbp.gov/I94, and to apply for the I-94 online, visit http://i94.cbp.dhs.gov.